How Authors Get Paid

One thing we don’t always talk about in the writing community is money (Though I’ve seen a few authors address it.) I thought I’d do my part to share some information on the process, along with passing along some specific numbers.

I want to say up front that I’m sure all contracts are different. I’ll be sharing specific numbers from my own contract, but it’s not necessarily going to be exactly the same for everybody. PLANETSIDE is being published by Harper Voyager, a division of HarperCollins, and is likely representative of a lot of big 5 contracts. Smaller presses likely have significantly different terms, often with a higher percentage going to the author.

None of this is meant to be a complaint about my publisher, or publishing in general. The numbers are what they are, and I’m very happy with my contract.

With all that out of the way, let’s open up my 17 page contract and see how we get paid. My deal is for two books, which are called Work #1 and Work #2. I get an advance on both works, and that’s right up front in the contract. In my case, for Work #1 I get half the advance upon signing the contract, half on acceptance. I’m told that this is the best possible format for the author, as some contracts break it into thirds, with the last third coming on publication (which is much later).

This is pretty straightforward, except for the definition of acceptance. My publisher offered on my book in January, and they already had it. Acceptance came after I got my edit letter (July), made the edits, turned them back in, and the editor went back over them and was satisfied. For us this was a pretty simple process, as my editor was happy with my first round of edits and accepted the work somewhere around October.

For work #2, I got half on signing (note how good a deal this is for the author, and why you want a multi-book deal. You get paid before you even start writing it in most cases.) I triggered a small payment ($1000) for turning in a detailed outline, and I get the rest on acceptance of work #2, which is at some point in the future.

In the short term, that’s how I get paid. To make more money beyond the advances, I first have to earn enough in royalties to pay the publisher back the advance. This happens on a per-book basis, so if I sell enough copies of book 1 to cover book 1’s advance, I get paid royalties for that even if I haven’t paid back book 2’s advance yet.

Royalty rates vary by format. In my contract, the rates are as follows:

Hardcover: 10% to 5,000 copies, 12.5% 5,001 to 10,000 copies, and 15% beyond that. (note, there’s no planned hardcover of my book, so this is pretty irrelevant.)

Trade Paperback: 7.5% (Also doesn’t matter to me, as there’s no planned TP version)

Mass Market Paperback: 8% for the first 150,000 copies, 10% thereafter. I’m not currently worried about selling 150,000 copies. If I get close, I promise to write a new post and talk all about it.

Since my book is a mass market paperback release, this is the first number that matters. 8 percent. At the current list price of $7.99, that means I make about 64 cents a book that goes toward paying back my advance.

The next, and likely most important number for me is the royalty for digital sales. This one is a little more confusing, as it is 25% of amounts received. This is different from the physical copies, which are calculated from the retail price. What this means is that I only get 25% of what the publisher receives from the seller. With the world’s biggest e-book seller Amazon, the publisher gets 70%. That means I get 25% of that 70%, which is 17.5% of the sale price. With my book currently listed for $6.99 for the e-book version, I would expect about $1.22 in royalties per digital sale. This one could vary greatly, as it’s much more common for a publisher to run price promotions on digital versions than print (since there are more up front costs to produce and ship a print version.)

So if you’re ever thinking that you want to buy a book to support an author, hopefully these numbers might shed some light on how to best do that. With that said, buy the format that makes you happy. Any sale is a good sale.

There are other factors that make some sales more beneficial than others beyond just the money involved, but that’s another post for another day.



Did you know that my novel PLANETSIDE is available for pre-order? Read all about it here


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   A seasoned military officer uncovers a deadly conspiracy on a distant, war-torn planet…

About Me

I am a former Soldier and current science fiction writer. Usually I write about Soldiers. Go figure. I’m represented by Lisa Rodgers of JABberwocky Literary Agency. If you love my blog and want to turn it into a blockbuster movie featuring Chris Hemsworth as me, you should definitely contact her.

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